Jokiharju is excited to join the Sabres

July 10, 2019 - 11:27 am

Coming into the offseason, it was evident that the Buffalo Sabres had to address several areas of the roster in order to improve the team for the 2019-20 season.

One of the most prevalent needs the Sabres had to address coming into this offseason was the need for an upgrade on the blue line, at the NHL level and throughout the organization. The Sabres and general manager Jason Botterill have done just that through several different avenues.

Botterill used the 31st overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft to select defenseman Ryan Johnson, while also using free agency to sign John Gilmour.

Botterill has also worked the phones to work two separate trades to acquire right-handed defensemen.

Colin Miller was acquired by the Sabres from the Vegas Golden Knights on June 28 in exchange for a 2021 second round pick and a 2022 fifth round pick.

On Tuesday, Botterill made a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks to acquire Henri Jokiharju in a one-for-one swap for winger Alex Nylander.

Jokiharju joined the Howard and Jeremy Show on Wednesday and said that while the trade took him a bit by surprised, he is happy to be part of the Sabres moving forward.

"Of course it's a shock, but after that I started to think about how this is a good thing for me," Jokiharju said. "Coming to this kind of organization like the Buffalo Sabres with young guys, great players and a great town. I think it's great for me and I'm super excited to be a part of the Buffalo Sabres."

Jokiharju was taken by the Blackhawks in the first round (29th overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He made his professional debut last season with the Blackhawks organization, racking up 38 games in the NHL while tallying 12 assists. At the American Hockey League level with the Rockford IceHogs, Jokiharju scored twice and had 15 assists in 30 games.

The 20-year-old likes to think of himself as a modern-day player in the NHL, one that may be ready to take a bigger role next season in his first season with the Sabres.

"I'm a puck-moving defenseman with a kind of a motor style," Jokiharju said. "I want to be a big part of the team's plans if possible. I play on the power play and penalty kill as well. [I try to] create some chances, and scoring chance...play with the puck on the stick and make some good moves with puck...that kind of stuff."

Before Tuesday's trade, Jokiharju's only connections to Buffalo was his brief time downtown for the 2017 NHL Combine, as well as the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship while representing his home nation of Finland. However, he liked what he saw of the city in his brief time in Western New York.

"I love [the location of] the rink, right next to the water," Jokiharju said. "It's not too busy of a town. That kind of feels like Finland. It's not too busy and you can relax there."

Jokiharju does have some familiarity with a couple of Sabres prospects, who he spent time playing with in international competition with Finland. Sabres goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and defensive prospect Oskari Laaksonen have all played with Jokiharju, and all three of them were a part of the Finland team that won the gold medal at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship in Vancouver, British Columbia. Jokiharju said it's great to know players within the Sabres organization.

"I know both [Luukkonen and Laaksonen] real well," Jokiharju said. "We've played in a couple tournaments together. Oskari Laaksonen is one of my best friends back in my hometown. It's exciting to have them to call and to text those guys that I'm coming to Buffalo."

Jokiharju has two years left on his contract with an average annual value of $925,000. He acknowledged that he was aware that he may get traded at any point this offseason, but he pushed that aside to focus on training for next season.

"I knew I might become a trade [asset]," Jokiharju said. "I didn't think about that kind of stuff I just focused up in my training this summer. Now it'll give me even more of a boost, so it's awesome."

During his time on the Blackhawks, Jokiharju played with Stanley Cup champions like Duncan Keith, Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane. Jokiharju learned a lot from player on the Blackhawks, especially Keith. His biggest takeaway was that they just showed up, they didn't crowd Jokiharju's mind with lots of things.

"He taught me a lot on how to play the right way, taught me some [other] stuff and [how to] play through certain things," Jokiharju said. "They didn't say things to me too much, like bother me with too many ideas in my head. They just showed up."

In his 30 games for the IceHogs Jokiharju led all defenseman with 0.57 points per-game. He said his time in the AHL helped him develop his game, as well as his time on the Blackhawks did as well.

"I think that helped me a lot to just be there in the AHL and play big time minutes," Jokiharju said. "I think that was awesome for me in the last part of the season to play for a team in the NHL. That was good for me to play big minutes over there [in Chicago] and develop my game. You become a better player when you play more minutes, not less."

You can listen to the entire interview below:

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